With Wellington in the Peninsula

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  • Author:
    Paul Cowan
    Subtitled: The Adventures of a Highland Soldier 1808-1814

    This is a soldier’s story of his time with the 71st of Foot, a Highland light infantry regiment. The editor, Paul Cowan, makes the point that this is more likely to be a collection of stories from more than one soldier, brought together by an officer yet written up as one man’s experience. Whatever is so, this is a fascinating account of the ordinary soldier campaigning with the British Army early in the 19th Century.

    The point is also, strongly made, that this is not the story of the Campaign, of the battles fought on the Peninsula as seen and told by Generals, but a Private soldiers’ view of them, which was very often no more than a cloud of gun smoke hovering a few yards in front of his face! Don’t be put off though as the tales of life in between battles is in parts sad, brutal yet like sqaddies of all eras, often funny. Soldiers’ walking barefoot is not uncommon as the cheap shoes they were issued with wore away and became useless. Tunics became threadbare and lost a lot of their colour, billeting was a case of knocking on a door and ‘inviting’ oneself in – if no answer came then the door was smashed in. Food was scarce and often was what could be foraged, but they had to be quick or others would beat them to it. To enter a house with a meal just prepared was a luxury, but not for the family!

    There are also tales, and of course you will find them hard to believe, of some soldiers being able to find alcohol in just about any circumstance and end up dead drunk when it appears that there is no alcohol to be found – I don’t think that has changed much over the centuries!

    This is a good book to read, and the squaddie is very much to the fore, how he was treated by his officers, generally very well where they could, how he was fed, watered and quartered but probably most importantly how he fought, shoulder to should in Line. He was light infantry so used those tactics but often his Battalion were used in the line or as blockading troops.

    If you like the Peninsular Campaign then this is a good tale of the sharp end. It is also a look at society of the early 19th century and why young men took the ‘shilling’. The book is well written and edited, easy to read with some clear informative maps.

    4 Mr Mushroomheads for this book.

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